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The challenge

Timaru District is a local government district in New Zealand's South Island administered by the Timaru District Council.

Recognising that many customers prefer being able to self-serve and avoid the need to queue whether on a call or at a counter, the Council needed to innovate to meet their customers’ changing expectations.

The solution

Chatbot ‘Tim’, complete with thick black glasses and wearing a red shirt, answers a range of customer queries 24/7.

Developed in four weeks using the council’s existing web management platform Squiz Matrix CMS, and Google’s Dialogflow AI service, ‘Tim’ follows a script that the Customer Services team can update, based on analytics of actual usage and seasonal topics.

It enables customers to ask questions in their own words, rather than just clicking through a menu of options.

The results

  • Presents answers to common questions about 26 seconds faster than it takes to browse or search the website.
  • Can handle multiple conversations at once.
  • Since launch, ‘Tim’ has handled more than 21,000 enquiries, enabling customers to better access information on the website and freeing up council staff for more complex enquiries.
  • ‘Tim’ has been able to answer 80% of enquiries. The remaining 20% includes enquiries where only a single word has been entered that can’t be matched or words have been misspelt.
  • In a post-launch survey, 77% of respondents answered 'yes' to 'Was this response helpful?'
  • Potential to expand chatbot functionality in the future, for example, helping council staff access information faster, booking building inspections or reporting issues.

The approach

Looking to drive operational efficiency, the Council recognised that providing customer service online was the lowest cost option. The project required input from every area of council, and especially close collaboration between the Council’s Customer Services and IT Departments.

Feedback is continually monitored, so the responses from ‘Tim’ can be improved and additional information added where ‘Tim’ is being asked questions that he currently can’t answer.

Meet Turbo Tim - our first AI-powered virtual customer services representative

The NZ Squiz team were extremely easy to work with. We worked collaboratively, and had a clear roadmap, so we were able to meet the necessary deadlines. They helped break the project down into different sections and were very helpful when it came to training staff

Justin Bagust
CIO - Timaru District Council
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